Seismic-Sound: Something Not So Cool by Scott Wagner
We’ve all known that person. In fact, if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you are that person — possessed of an insatiable appetite for live music, a desperate need to be in the place to be, in the know, in the now. You’re a show ho. It’s simply not good enough to hear about it, read about it, or put a band’s next gig on your calendar in all caps. If you missed it, you’re afflicted all day long with an itch you just can’t scratch, a deep pocket of musical remorse that rattles around inside your skull like a mosquito trapped in your pup tent. You can curse it, slap at it, or try to ignore it, but the only thing that will fix your affliction, or afflict your fix, if you will, is the sound of a guitarist tuning at sound check or a singer’s “1, 2, 3 check, check,1, 2, 3.” The next show starts, and the one you missed is mercifully forgotten.
Over the years, I’ll admit I’ve been accused of being a show ho. It’s at once a badge of honor and an unbearable burden, but one I wore/bore with a full glass and uncommon zeal for the better part of two decades. However, somewhere along the line, there comes a tipping point, and you just can’t maintain that pace – or at least I couldn’t. Age and career, tin ear, liver spots, and the sheer flood of bands, names, faces and places becomes simply too much to fathom. You wake up one day, and it’s OK to just hear about the show, second-hand reports and status updates confirm that the world you left behind is indeed alive and well. So you pick and choose, whittle it down, de-friend, and unplug.
Don’t get me wrong, I still get out there and represent – and when I do, I like to leave a mark. I wouldn’t have taken Jason Friendt (see: show ho extremis maximus) up on his offer to contribute to this burgeoning blog if I didn’t feel that my insights still contain some merit or perspective. I’ve been a rock critic all my life, whether that’s with written words or simply bleating unsolicited opinions above the fray, I’ve made it my business to love ‘em or leave ‘em since my first box of mail-order records from SST, or my first record review in The Rocket back in ’96. Now, a little older, and to all who know me, clearly not much wiser, I’ve decided to dive back into the pit, elbows out, PBR stains on my (slightly tighter) t-shirt, eyes wide and ears open.
In short, this shit is very much ON.
Now, if you’ll allow me a digression. Before I moved from Portland to Seattle to work for KEXP a few years back, I had a traumatic experience. I lost a job I loved, in part due to my own stubborn obliviousness and nocturnal indulgences, and in part because of an economy that couldn’t support an extravagance the size of my salary. There were some salad days there, brilliant stretches I’ll never forget and as time passes those moments outweigh what was an undeniably bitter end. In the year between that unexpected career change — from King Shit Atop Fuck Mountain to Unemployed Rudderless Sloth — I rekindled a very special friendship with one of the Northwest’s preeminent show hos. She too had lost a job she loved, and in that time and place, we were perfect partners in crime. She was Joe Perry to my Steven Tyler. My kid Sis. My bestie. Her name is Jaime Cooley, and now she’s gone.
As the Assistant Program and Music Director of Portland’s KNRK 94.7 FM, and the host of her own show “Something Cool,” everybody knew Jaime. I met her when she was 17, just a bubbly young radio intern, when I was working for The Rocket’s Portland edition. Even then, she had that special something. You knew this girl was going places. Over the years, I watched her ascend the ranks, her popularity and notoriety blossoming in synch with her career. She became sort of a big deal, kickstarting the careers of local bands, rubbing elbows with celebrities (During her wake, a co-worker of hers told a story about being in a room with a handful of household name rock stars. He leaned over to her and nervously said “we’re the only radio people here.” Jaime’s response had been “Because we’re fucking cool” and I’m certain she said it without a shred of irony). It seemed she was everybody’s best friend, and that she could do no wrong. Her pure, unabashed love of music is what defined her most, that thrill of discovering a new band, finding out what made them tick, and championing them with every waking breath. Not to mention the fact that Jaime was effortlessly beautiful, with a smile that could give a pasty white boy like me a tan. It appeared she had captured something magical, and to the outside world she had “it.” Though riddled with self-doubt and flawed as we all are, for a time she was the very picture of shiny success. She was shameless, and in some ways fearless. Jaime owned every venue she ever set foot in, and whether the room was ready for it or not, this force of nature was going to do what it damn well pleased. With her posse in tow, it was like watching a hurricane or the Tasmanian devil — a vibrant, violent burst of shmooze and booze, the confetti of drink tickets and handbills, bad band-boy haircuts, broken hearts, the iPhone paparazzi. With her hustle and flow, saggy jeans and stocking caps, she was the “Queen Of All Show Hos”. A scene unto herself. And I miss her.
For all of her bluster, privately she was of course a very different person. The pressures of maintaining a high-profile persona wore on her. She wrestled with demons, and with relationships that came and went too easily, as disposable as the three-minute pop songs she spun from the DJ booth. Over time, her image and reputation suffered consequences, the inevitable backlash we all levy towards those who are quite clearly having too much fun enjoying the spotlight; in part, of course because it’s a spotlight we’re not in. But to truly know her was to love her, to live in awe of her, and to instinctively want to protect her from the world she’d created. The real Jaime Cooley wasn’t simply a media fabrication — she was a vulnerable kid, a sweet and thoughtful friend, and a fun-loving burst of sunshine, a light. She impacted thousands of lives, and reminded us all not to take ourselves too seriously.
I want to remember her this way. I want to remember how she was there for me during my fall from grace, just as I was there for hers. She had sent me a message a few days before she passed. She wasn’t happy with her job. And something terrible had happened with an ex. And could she come visit. “I’m here for you”, I had written. These, the last words we would ever exchange. “I’m here for you.”
And I’m here for her now. I’ll apologize to all of you for using my inaugural column for Seismic-Sound as a forum for a eulogy of sorts, but I wanted to dedicate this one to my dearly departed, taken from us far too soon. As I explore Seattle’s dark corners in search of the almighty riff, a bald, chatty affront to sobriety, I’ll channel her spirit and her passion. I won’t reference her again here, but she’ll be with me.
That said, I promise you that I’m not going to dwell on the morose, the shitty or the sad very often. I plan on bringing you writing that reads about like a 99-cent value item eats right after last call; you’re going to devour it quickly, it’s going to hit the spot, and you might feel like complete ass afterwards. But for a moment, you’ll be satisfied. And, if satisfaction is indeed the death of desire, I’ll leave you wanting more. Stay hungry, friends. There’s plenty more where this came from.~W.Scott Wagner